Olney Hymns Book 1 Hymn 54
The evils that beset our path...
Manuscript Hymn No. 189
Vanity of Life (a)
The evils that beset our path
Who can prevent or cure?
We stand upon the brink of death
When most we seem secure.
If we today sweet peace possess,
It soon may be withdrawn;
Some change may plunge us in distress,
Before tomorrow’s dawn.
Disease and pain invade our health,
And find an easy prey;
And oft, when least expected, wealth
Takes wings, and flies away.
A fever or a blow can shake
Our wisdom’s boasted rule,
And of the brightest genius make
A madman or a fool.
The gourds, from which we look for fruit,
Produce us only pain;
A worm unseen attacks the root,
And all our hopes are vain.
I pity those who seek no more
Than such a world can give;
Wretched they are, and blind, and poor,
And dying while they live.
Since sin has filled the earth with woe,
And creatures fade and die;
Lord, wean our hearts from things below,
And fix our hopes on high.
(a) See also Book 2, Hymn 6
from John Newton's Diary, relevant to this hymn:
Tuesday 3 January 1775
In the evening [at the] Great House spoke from Colossians 2:8,9 [Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. ]
Had a sublime subject, where even thought fails, how little can a worm utter. Yet God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16] – though an Incomprehensible Mystery [Colossians 2:2] – is a self-evident truth upon Scripture principles.
Admitting what the Bible teaches concerning the evil of sin, the depravity of human nature, the sanction of the law and the perfections of God – Admitting that the Lord has determined to save sinners in a way worthy of himself and to give the brightest display possible both of justice and of love, then it will follow of course that their Redeemer must be God-Man. No mere creature can have worthiness to atone, or power to save.
Friday 6 January 1775
1 John 2:15 [Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.]
Sunday 8 January 1775
Hymn on the vanity of life, afforded me a subject at the Great House.
[Hymn No. 189]
[On this date Newton preached from the above texts at his church, St Peter & St Paul, Olney, during the morning and afternoon services, and from this hymn at the informal evening service]
Hymn: MS Eng 1317, Houghton Library, Harvard University
Diary: John Newton Collection, CO199, Princeton University
Marylynn Rouse, 10/09/2013